Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The accident of birth is the greatest source of inequality

A NYT article points to an excellent presentation by Prof James Heckman, the most influential proponent of early childhood education, makes for very interesting reading. Prof Heckman has argued for a long time now that better teaching, higher standards, smaller classrooms and more Internet access have less impact than we think, when compared to more effective education before children step into classroom (0-5 years). He has argued that the growing disparities in skills and education among people can be effectively bridged only with early childhood education.

He finds that maternal education level exerts massive influence on children's test scores at every age-group. As the graphic below shows, wards of mother's with college graduation score much more throughout their student career than children with mothers who have had only High School or less education.

Furthermore, he says that apart from test scores (which do not measure the character that turns knowledge into know-how), 'socio-emotional skills' or 'character' too are critical to life-long learning and career outcomes. These include motivation, the ability to work with others, attention, self-regulation, self-esteem and the ability to defer gratification, all of which are influenced by early childhood environment. This in turn puts children from troubled families at a life-long disadvantage.

There is an excellent graphic on the returns to education, which clearly indicates that early-childhood and pre-school education generates much higher returns on investment than job-training and even schooling.

This carries great relevance for India's education policy makers whose touchstone for success is the narrow metric of tenth class results. As I have blogged earlier, if the same effort is focused on students at the pre-primary and primary levels, then the tenth class results would largely take care of itself. The current strategy of everyone driving themselves to a frenzy on tenth class results, while completely ignoring early childhood education, is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.


Keith Handley said...

Research here in New Zealand also comes to the same conclusions.

I firmly believe that a high quality early childhood education, helps to mitigate lower socioeconomic disadvantages.

aneez said...

very insightful. Thanks for sharing!